Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Big Interview: George Maguire

George Maguire is currently starring as Macheath in the world premiere of new musical The Buskers Opera at the Park Theatre. 

Written by Dougal Irvine, the show is in its final week with only limited tickets available. Lotte Wakeham directs with the cast also including Lauren Samuels and David Burt.

George won the 2015 Olivier Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical for originating the role of Dave Davies in The Kinks musical, Sunny Afternoon. George worked on the show from its very first workshop before going on to star in Sunny Afternoon’s run at the Hampstead Theatre and its subsequent West End transfer to the Harold Pinter Theatre.

His theatre credits also include: Busker in Lift (Soho), Marc Bolan in 20th Centuryboy (Coventry Belgrade/New Woseley), Berger in Hair (Piccadilly), David in Bank (Kings Head), Richard Loeb in Thrill Me (Charing Cross), Joe Vegas in Fame (Shaftesbury), understudy Stu Clutterbuck in Tonight's The Night (UK tour) and Captain in Oliver! (Palladium).

I recently spoke to George about why he’s attracted to new work, what drew him to The Buskers Opera, his whirlwind journey with Sunny Afternoon and childhood dream of being in Les Mis…

You’ve become known for taking on new musicals – you went straight from Lift into Sunny Afternoon and now into The Buskers Opera. What attracts you to these kinds of projects?
New work is one of the main things that keeps me going. I’ve been very fortunate – I’ve never gone into a show which is has already been running and done a takeover. I’m very much about doing new musicals because, as an actor, it’s very exciting to be able to create a role and to be part of a piece which is brand new. Everyone in the rehearsal room was coming up with it for the first time which for me is one of the best things about acting. It’s nice to not just be told where to stand and what to do. New musical theatre is something we should be supporting, especially in London, and it’s amazing that there is so much more new writing around now.

When The Buskers Opera came along what were your first impressions?
Straight away I loved it. I had heard bits of the music through demos – it’s so contemporary but there are also different genres and styles whilst still keeping its own distinctive sound. The script is all spoken in rhyming verse – I thought it was brilliant, very clever and very funny. Playing a character that speaks in rhyming verse all the way through a show is something I’ve never done. Also the subject matter made me go ‘wow this is so important’ when I first read it. It’s easier to address issues and express things people are going through in plays, but what’s great about musical theatre is that it gives you an extra medium to tell stories. It should be explored more, rather than your general love stories. It was like nothing I had ever read. I wanted in [laughs]!

George & Lauren Samuels in The Buskers Opera

And you got in! How was it going into rehearsals? Were things constantly being changed and tweaked?
We all jumped into the unknown. Obviously all the creatives had done a lot of workshopping and were ready to go. Having Dougal Irvine in rehearsals every day was amazing – he could re-write things there and then and help us put it up on its feet. It feels great to be part of an ever-evolving piece of theatre. Rehearsals is always my favourite time of any job because it’s when you get to play. We have a good bunch too [laughs] – everyone’s getting on.

What’s the whole company vibe like?
So great! I’ve never worked with Lauren (Samuels) before and she’s great. We’ve also got David Burt who was the original Enjolras which is pretty cool because that’s a part I’ve actually always wanted to have a go at. We’ve got such an array of different styles of performer which is what brings colour to the piece. Audiences have been saying the show is funny, moving and a whole array of stuff – so the audience get a mixture of feelings. It’s not overly political, it’s just a great story about society. We have so much versatile talent in the cast. It’s a great team.

George in The Buskers Opera
You’ve played these more intimate theatres like the Soho and Hampstead before. How do you find having the front row almost sitting on the stage?
I think I prefer it. You can feel the audience reaction and play with that, whereas with a lot of West End theatres if you have an orchestra pit you’re ten feet away from the audience. That’s fine too, it’s just different. Here at the Park we have a thrust stage with the audience on three sides which is something I’ve not done before. You have to constantly think and make sure everyone is getting enough of the story and dialogue. It’s a lovely theatre to be working at and perfect for a show like this. 

We obviously have to talk about Sunny Afternoon. You were with the show right at the beginning when it was at the Hampstead… fast forward a year and you were in the West End winning an Olivier Award! What was that whole journey like?
We had no idea what was going to happen next – it just kept getting better and better! I did three workshops, and even after the first one I didn’t know if I was going to be asked back. I originally just took it on as a week’s work! Being involved with a workshop is a great thing to do, but then to be asked back three times and then to be told it was going to the Hampstead was amazing. It was the first time I had done a workshop which had then gone all the way to be put into production. It’s dangerous to just expect things in this game, so when we were at the Hampstead we just went along with it and enjoyed the moment. 

When we were told we were going to the West End that was obviously a dream come true, but the word Oliviers didn’t even cross my mind. When you just want to put on a great show the Oliviers aren’t your priority… all of that kind of thing is another world. It kept growing and growing and then the nominations were announced and we were all on such a journey together because we had been doing it for the best part of two years. It was a crazy ride. To be performing at the Oliviers and then to win really was ‘pinch yourself’ stuff. We all worked so hard on it and loved it, so to get recognition made us all feel incredibly proud. It was a wonderful time I’ll never forget. 

George & Lillie Flynn in Sunny Afternoon

And it must be so cool to think now that you’re no longer in the show but eight times a week another actor is stepping into the shoes of a role you created… and very soon it will be heading off around the UK too. The show will live on and you can always say you were there right at the beginning!
It’s really lovely. There were four of us who were in the first workshop in this little room at Sadler’s Wells sitting round in a circle reading a script and to think that, from the work we did back then and from what everyone went on to create together, now there is a whole new cast doing it in the West End… it’s still running and about to go on tour. I feel immensely proud! To create a show and to leave with the show carrying on is another first for me. It’s wonderful. And to do a cast recording was amazing! We got to record at Ray Davies’ studio which was just really cool. 

I hope your Olivier Award is somewhere safe!
[laughs] I carry it around in my pocket! 

You never know when an Olivier Award might come in handy!
It’s pride of place on my fireplace in my bedroom [laughs].

The other show we need to discuss is Lift by Craig Adams because I’m still obsessed with it. You were in the show back in 2013 alongside the most incredible cast…
Craig is a genius!

What was he like to work with?
He’s lovely. Such a lovely, lovely guy. He’s so caring and passionate about the work. For me Lift was very exciting. I remember going home on the tube listening back to what we’d done during rehearsal not just to learn it, but because I was loving it! There was a thing called ‘Octet’ where we all sang and it was just stunning, stunning harmonies. Craig is a good friend now. He’s prolific. 

And it’s one of those special casts who have all gone on to do incredible things… from Olivier Awards to Tony nominations and playing Elphaba and so on…
Oh yes, we were very lucky. It was a lovely time because it was something we were all there to do because we all loved it. It was such a nice cast.

You worked with Julie Atherton again when you wrote a few songs for her album. How do you balance focusing on your own music with doing shows? Does it fit in nicely?
Yes it does actually, and it’s becoming more and more of a thing I can do at the same time. I’ve always written music but, as an actor, it can be hard to commit to a gigging timetable. I’ve always just done it for me. Julie approached me and asked if I would do a couple of songs for her album, of course I said yes because it was a good challenge. It’s a wonderful thing to hear other people interpret your music. It’s really interesting. I’ve just written a song for an album called Ms. A Song Cycle which is in aid of the MS Society. It’s a cast of all ladies singing songs inspired by women with MS. It’s produced by Rory Sherman and I’ve written a song Lillie Flynn is singing. It was another challenge because I was given lyrics and had to write the song with Lillie in mind. I’m very pleased with the outcome. Music is something that’s becoming more a part of my life. I’ve got my own band going and am working on an album at the moment.

George in Lift at the Soho Theatre

So I know your main focus is new work, but earlier you mentioned you have always wanted to have a go at playing Enjolras! If the right role in a long-running show came up, would you be up for it?
There are a few classics like Enjolras… well, one day I would love to have a go at Javert. When I was a child I used to think [does high pitched impression of himself] ‘One day I’ll be old enough to be Javert’ [laughs]. I mean, Les Mis has been going for so many years because it’s so good! It’s a classic. What else would I maybe do? I’ve always had a desire to play Mickey in Blood Brothers which is one of my favourite pieces of musical theatre ever. It will come back one day, I’m sure it will. That’s another dream role. Of course I want to do more new writing, but there are some parts I would love to have a go at.

What’s it like to have so much support behind you from theatregoers? I’m sure all the Sunny Afternoon fans have been along to The Buskers Opera, and they’ll support your own music projects – people are so dedicated!
I know! It’s lovely. Really amazing. It’s what keeps theatre going. I’ve been very lucky, particularly since Sunny Afternoon, that people do follow what I’m doing and support me. We had ten or more Sunny Afternoon fans at the very first preview of The Buskers Opera to support me. I’m incredibly grateful and touched by it all. It’s nice to know that people are enjoying something so much they want to follow and support you. They have all been very lovely, I’ve got a good group of fans [laughs]. My gratitude is massive. I’ve never been really used to using the word ‘fans’ – it’s not something you think about as an actor. It’s not on your agenda. It’s a lovely thing! We couldn’t do it without them – there would be no point!

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

The Buskers Opera runs at the Park Theatre until 4th June 2016.
Please visit www.parktheatre.co.uk for further information and tickets.

Ms. A Song Cycle is avaliable now from SimG Records and iTunes.

Photo Credit 2-3: Simon Annand
Photo Credit 4-5: Kevin Cummins
Photo Credit 6: Darren Bell

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